Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) is the accepted common name of Canada's largest freshwater game fish. It is also known by its original Indian name, maskinonge, which is the official name given it in the statutes of Canada and those of Ontario and Quebec. Anglers often refer to it as the musky. The muskellunge has been exclusively a game fish in Ontario since 1904 and in Quebec since 1936 due to the intensity of sport fishing for it and the decline in catches.
A close relative of the northern pike, the muskellunge exhibits the same long body shape with dorsal and anal fins set back near the tail, the long, flat-topped snout with undershot jaw, and the large mouth armed with rows of strong, sharp teeth. Early in the century, this fish was known to exceed 45 kg in weight. The largest on record weighed 50 kg and was netted by commercial fishermen in Michigan state waters in 1914. The world's record catch by an angler was taken on the St. Lawrence River in 1957 and weighed 31.5 kg. Today, muskellunge are most often caught in the length range of 71 to 122 cm and weight range of 2.3 to 16.3 kg.
The overall colour of the muskellunge varies with the geographical area. Its flanks usually show dark spots, bars or wavy lines on a light background in contrast to the northern pike, which has light markings on a dark background. Its back, head, and upper sides usually vary from greenish brown to slate grey, shading to greenish gold or silver on the lower sides and white over the belly. Its scales are very small and unlike the northern pike, it has no scales on the lower half of its cheeks.
In Canada, the range of the muskellunge extends throughout the St. Lawrence River and all of the Great Lakes and to many inland waters of Ontario and Quebec. It has also been introduced in eastern Manitoba and although still limited, has spread naturally in that province.
Its preferred habitat is warm, heavily vegetated lakes, stumpy, weedy bays, and slow-flowing, heavily vegetated rivers. Like the northern pike, it has a voracious appetite for other fish such as yellow perch and white sucker.
Few Canadian game fish are as popular with sport fishermen as the muskellunge. Its leaping, fighting tactics and unpredictable behaviour make it a worthy opponent for the most experienced angler. It is caught by trolling or casting with a plug, spoon, spinner or live bait fish. As with other sport fisheries, legislation imposes season, size, daily bag and possession limits.